• Sea song paying tribute to Nelson is one of four new pieces being brought to life by musicians at Guildhall School of Music & Drama after more than 200 years
  • The works were discovered during lockdown by Museum of London librarian Lluis Tembleque Teres who found them amongst songbooks belonging to Nelson’s lover, Emma Hamilton

A recording of an old sea song, one of four recently rediscovered pieces of music paying tribute to Nelson, has been released today by the Museum of London. Brought to life by musicians from Guildhall School of Music & Drama, it marks the first performance of the piece in over 200 years. The extraordinary discovery was made last year by Museum of London librarian Lluis Tembleque Teres who discovered it amongst songbooks belonging to Nelson’s lover, the actress and model Emma Hamilton.

It is thought the song was sung after the battle of Cape St Vincent (1797) and transcribed by Nelson after hearing it chanted by his crew. The lyrics have been known about since a letter from Nelson to William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensberry, was sold at auction in 2013- the only other known reference to the song. The new discovery points to the addition of new music and a chorus by the Duke, a notorious society figure, whose reputation for gambling and horse racing has long overshadowed his musical ability. A personal friend of Emma Hamilton, his authorship of the piece is recorded in Emma’s own hand. 

Lluis Tembleque Teres, librarian, Museum of London, said,

““The song was written by Nelson’s crew in one of his early victories. It is fascinating how, some four years later and already a national hero, he recovers the lyrics and sends them to the Duke of Queensberry, almost as if showing off his early successes. The Duke then adds music and a chorus, and gifts the manuscript to Emma Hamilton, thus allowing us exactly 220 years later to relive Nelson’s fame while performing it.”

Dr Christopher Suckling, Head of Historical Performance at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, said,

Equally as extraordinary is that a man of the Duke of Queensberry’s position should take the time and take the effort to compose at least two pieces of music in Nelson’s honour. That he should choose to express himself through this least gentlemanly of arts speaks to both his strength of feeling for Nelson and his sensibility towards the Admiral’s relationship with Emma Hamilton.”

The original manuscripts reflect the different manner in which music was experienced at the turn of the nineteenth century, its empty staves typical of a time when music could be played by any combination of available musicians. Amongst the upper classes, the function of domestic music was largely seen as a way to kill time and despite some contemporaries considering social music making to be the embodiment of morality, playing and composing was not held in high regard.

The release follows a special one-off live performance of all four songs at the Museum of London Docklands on 11th December, which will be available to watch in full as an online event from Tuesday 21st December 2021.

DIGITAL Emma’s Songbooks: rediscovered music for Nelson will include performances of the four songs by Mhairi Lawson (Professor in Historical Performance, Guildhall School of Music & Drama) and Guildhall School musicians, as well as talks and discussions with Lluis Tembleque Teres (Librarian, Museum of London) and Dr Christopher Suckling (Head of Historical Performance, Guildhall School of Music and Drama).